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Building Blocks for Resilient Gardens

A picture of someone at the Plant Sales.

As we look to the future, we want to broaden our scope to support landscapes that are not just sustainable, but also resilient. We need landscapes that will provide beauty, shade, comfort, pollinator and wildlife habitat, carbon sequestration, stormwater management, and many other benefits. To be resilient, these landscapes must also be able to survive and recover from major stresses, such as extreme heat, drought, heavy rainfall, and new pest or disease outbreaks. In our area, the main stresses are heat and drought.

In the face of upcoming environmental challenges, urban and suburban landscape resiliency presents itself as a vital and achievable goal when plants are carefully selected for their drought- and heat tolerance, as well as environmental benefits. How can we help our urban landscapes support biodiversity and bounce back from harmful impacts? A fully developed, resilient garden has layers of beautiful native and climate-adapted plantings that provide food and shelter to support a rich variety of insects and birds. 

As the Arboretum and Public Garden collections have grown and evolved, our team has observed an array of species interactions that take place in a healthy, multi-layered resilient garden. Check out the following drought-tolerant plants from our sun palette to get started on your own resilient garden at home:

Annual Wildflowers

lacy phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia

Starting from the ground up, annual native wildflowers like lacy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia) are a beautiful filler between plantings and function as a living mulch. They provide food for pollinators and hunting grounds for spiders. When the flowers are done blooming, the plants support the soil as a green mulch and set seeds that will bloom the following year.
Lacy phacelia
Photo by Curtis Clark

Ground Cover

'Pigeon Point', Baccharis pilularis

Baccharis pilularis ‘Pigeon Point’ is an evergreen ground cover that harbors beneficial insects and hosts gall wasps. These invertebrate communities attract birds and other wildlife looking for a protein rich meal. Baccharis pilularis ‘Pigeon Point’ is a male cultivar so it doesn’t produce seeds for bird food, but the flowers supply nectar for bees, hover flies and butterflies.  
Pigeon Point
Photo by James Steaky

Grasses

'Blond Ambition', Bouteloua gracilis

'Blond Ambition' is a semi-deciduous grass that is a host plant for skipper butterflies and provides shelter for other insects and spiders.   

Blone Ambition

 

Perennials

Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) flowers supply food for pollinators and other beneficial insects. It is also a medicinal plant with antimicrobial components that benefit birds when they use it to line their nests. This behavior is a clever way birds can increase chick survivorship.

Yarrow
Photo by Jane Shelby Richardson

Shrubs

‘Valley Violet’, Ceanothus maritimus

Ceanothus maritimus ‘Valley Violet’ is a small dense evergreen shrub that supports quail nesting and provides cover for other wildlife. This plant’s early season flowers supply nectar and pollen to bumble bees, hover flies and honeybees. The seeds attract bushtits, mockingbirds, quail and finches. Ceanothus maritimus also have underground nodules that fix nitrogen, making essential nutrients available for surrounding plants. Valley Violet

Large Shrub/Small Tree

Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia

Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia), a large evergreen shrub, provides shelter for birds, mammals and invertebrates. Its plentiful flowers support pollinators and other beneficial insects with nectar and pollen. Toyon flowers mature into bright red fruit by December and provide a feast for birds and small mammals through early spring.
Toyon
Photo by Joyce Cory

Building resiliency in gardens not only supports biodiversity in our neighborhoods and cities, it can enhance natural processes such as stormwater infiltration, nutrient cycling, evaporative cooling, and carbon sequestration to reduce the local impacts of climate change. We want to support urban communities by equipping them with the tools to build and sustain species-rich landscapes. Work with us to transform our gardens into landscape corridors that enrich our lives, revitalize our neighborhoods, and ensure a biodiverse future for our community.

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